MONROE — First Selectman Ken Kellogg has asked the finance board to pass a budget with no tax increase.

The Board of Finance, thanks to an executive order by Gov. Ned Lamont in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, has final authority to approve the town’s 2020-21 budget. Two public hearings, with the first April 23, are planned before the board is expected to vote on the final proposal May 14.

The proposed budget stands at $91,534,191, a $3,681,314 increase from the present fiscal year’s budget. The Town Council presented the budget, a 4.19 percent hike from last year, which would result in a mill rate of 36.51, a 2.6 percent tax hike if approved.

"Now is not the time to ask taxpayers to pay more,” said Kellogg during the Board of Finance’s virtual meeting Thursday.

“I implore the Board of Finance to adopt a budget with a zero increase to the tax rate, while leveraging tools to avoid draconian reductions in service,” added Kellogg. “I stand ready to work with the board in collaboration with our outstanding team of staff and department heads, towards this goal.”

Board of Finance Chair Michael Manjos backed Kellogg, and, in a statement read during the meeting, offered steps — including cutting some $1.5 million in expenses and adjusting the tax collection rate down — needed to ease the burden on taxpayers over at least the next fiscal year.

"The economic impact will be widespread and although potentially temporary, as a town, I believe we need to prepare for diminished and deferred revenues,” said Manjos. “In this environment, the concept of increasing spending and raising the mill rate seems unfathomable and immoral.”

Manjos recommended using all but $2 million of the town’s fund balance, which is estimated to be at $10.3 million as of June 30, to meet necessary expenses.

“I often describe the fund balance as our rainy-day fund,” said Manjos, “and I think we all realize this is a 100-year storm.”

Manjos also recommended that all capital projects be deferred for one year, and he asked that Kellogg and acting schools Superintendent Joseph Kobza reach out to unions to defer all contractual raises for one year.

The collection rate must also be lowered to between 88 and 90 percent assuming tax payments will be deferred and the town may see business bankruptcies, he said.

The board members agreed with Manjos, and deliberation will continue at the board’s next budget workshop April 23. The board is requesting information on numerous accounts to see what projected savings could be found before making any decisions on a final budget proposal.

Board member Steve Kirsch stressed that while preparing a budget that eases the tax burden for this year is important, there must also be a plan to meet the town’s financial needs in the ensuing years.

“If we are unable to obtain contractual adjustments, we will unfortunately be forced to make service and educational cuts,” said Manjos. “If the collection rate comes in stronger, we can use the surplus revenue to replace the fund balance.

“I understand this is a one-time fix and that next year’s budget and mill rate hike will potentially be much larger than normal and difficult to swallow due to these changes,” added Manjos, “but I believe we have no choice. We need to do everything we can to help our fellow citizens during this difficult and challenging time.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com